UnitedHealthcare offers diabetes-based health plan

Health insurer UnitedHealthcare is launching a new health plan specifically aimed at diabetic and pre-diabetic employees, one whose design can include financial rewards for patients who comply with preventive care requirements.

UnitedHealthcare tested the plan with three employers: General Electric, Hewlett-Packard and Affinia Group. All three have signed on to participate in the program for 2010. The city of New Orleans and the American Postal Workers Union Health Plan will come on board on January 1 of next year, as well.

Right now, total healthcare costs for diabetic employees average more than $22,000 per year, according to health plan data. By rewarding them for doing things like testing their blood sugar and getting preventive screenings, the plan hopes to lower that number.

To find employees who might want to enroll in the plan--which is voluntary--UnitedHealthcare analyzes historical claims and does biometric screening to find patients who have pre-diabetes, or have already become diabetic.

The plan offers participants tools such as online monitoring and educational materials at no charge, along with self-monitoring services and a selection of critical drugs like insulin, oral anti-glycemics, ARBs and ACE inhibitors, anti-depressants and statins. Employees, who must follow program requirements if they want to keep participating, should save $500 per year over the existing out-of-pocket expenses, UnitedHealthcare projects.

While the plan can offer additional bennies like cash rewards for compliance, free or low-cost test meters and lower co-pays, that's not in the standard plan. It will be interesting to see just how many employers put their money where their theory is (that incentives can lower costs). I'm thinking that at first, few are going to be advanced enough to get on board.

To learn more about the plan:
- read this UnitedHealthcare press release

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